“Aiken Remembers”: Celebrate Our History and Community This Sunday

Press release: http://www.aikenstandard.com/story/0715-Joe-Lista

This Sunday, I will be presiding over and hosting a show at the Aiken Community Playhouse called “Aiken Remembers: Our Community Through the Lens of Joe Lista.” I wrote a column about it months ago for Verge, but now we’ve finally arrived. This Sunday, we will gather on-stage at 3 with four guest speakers who will lend personal stories to the already fascinating pictures of our town from the years 1954-1964.


This project has been more than one year in the making, ever since my boss sent me into the archives to find interesting photographs. With the help of URS, this evolved into a show to honor Todd’s father Joe Lista as well as take a closer, personal look at the era. Afterwards, we will show further pictures from our archives while enjoying refreshments.

I am completely stoked for this show, and I hope it brings back nostalgia for those who lived through this era while piquing intrigue from younger generations. Though some of the pictures cover controversial topics, such as segregation and socio-economic boundaries, this era emphasized community. Though we were a small town, we thrived together. Hopefully, we can regain this sense of community, and remembering how we did so once is the first step to doing so.

If you are a history-buff or a connoisseur of photography, you should come out to the Aiken Community Playhouse main stage in the URS Center of Performing Arts to enjoy this spectacle. I have spoken and interviewed all of our guest speakers and can ensure you that their stories are worth listening to.

The show will be broadcast live by Aiken Standard TV.

Once we reclaim our past, we can make today a yesterday we can be proud of.


Hornet Herald: Serialized Superheroes Inspire Society

{Originally printed in the Hornet Herald, released Thursday, now re-posted here.}

When the comics hit the newsstands, the fans wait to read the newest issue. Last time, Captain America fell off a precipice, pushed by a Nazi tank. Will he survive? The fans mill on the street, flipping through the pages to read what happens next. What happens next within the comic seems to be the only thing that matters at the moment.

We as a society are obsessed with heroes because those heroes reflect our values.

Beowulf was once that hero, the mortal man who rose above his calling to do something heroic. Today, we have the Avengers. On May 4, The Avengers movie will be released in theatres featuring superheroes such as Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Black Widow. Why do heroes even matter, and why do we follow them so ardently, buying issue after issue of a comic to follow a storyline?

Thousands of years ago we needed as we need today not just real heroes (firefighters or military leaders) but fictitious ones to represent what we believe as a society. We have expressed our deepest fears and greatest achievements through the stories of heroes. When World War Two began, comics became filled with masked men like Superman and Captain America. And what did Captain America stand for? America: liberty, freedom, and the defeat Hitler.

At that time in our history, America needed a patriotic hero.

In the 1970s, we met slightly different superheroes like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, representing heroes disillusioned with the country’s treatment of them and “the evils of capitalism.” For example, Moore’s masked Rorschach acted against the law to achieve what he believed personally just (a popular idea during this era).

Superheroes changed drastically in just three decades, from stalwart defenders of the Constitution to anti-war cynics. They change because America changes. Superheroes become whatever we need them to become and stand for what we need them to stand for.

After generations of change, how do the superheroes today measure up to those in the past? Due to a newly sparked interest in comic book heroes through recently released movies such as Iron Man, Thor, and The Dark Knight as well as the release of DC’s The New 52 (new and classic characters re-imagined to fit better into the mold of modern day), we must look at our superheroes have shaped us and how we shape superheroes.

What happens in our world is not just reflected in high-brow literature: in comic books, we see writers’ much more immediate reaction to tragedy. Comic books have featured suicidal religious cults, national terrorism, and corrupt politics, all trials that we have recently experienced.

For example, since the 1970s, we have seen a rise in female and minority superheroes (not just as sidekicks, but leading their own series). Female crime fighters such as Wonder Woman, Black Widow (part of the Avenger’s team) and Electra show that woman are just as formidable in tights as men. With the most recent comic reboot of Spiderman, we have adopted a multi-ethnic hero named Miles (who is half-Hispanic, half-African American).

While some see the purposeful change of a popular superhero’s race as a publicity stunt, I think it promotes the idea that heroes can arise from any background. Not everyone who will make a difference looks like Superman.

Comic book creators have also injected more realism into comics as well as the movies those comics inspire. We are no longer a society that needs a Superman, some infallible hero with unlimited powers; instead, we want characters vulnerable enough sympathize with and human enough to relate to. The humanizing of heroes has allowed us to place ourselves in a hero’s shoes: if even heroes can die yet overcome that fear to save the world, why can’t we?

As history progresses, we create superheroes more and more like ourselves perhaps because we love to see ourselves as heroes, even superheroes. Take for instance one of DC’s most popular characters Batman: he has no powers, only martial arts training and piles of money big enough to rival those of Scrooge McDuck’s. He appeals to us because he is both privileged and emotionally scarred—almost like America—and yet he uses what is given to him to defend Gotham City.

We need heroes as we have always needed heroes. Even if they are fictitious, we need someone to inspire us when times get tough, someone who will rise to the occasion and seize the day. We need that enigma to stand for something, and as long as glossy paper and America exist, we will have comic book superheroes who reflect our ideals and metaphorically protect us from wickedness.

Are Yahoo! Writers Real Writers or Middle School Students Paid in Trident Layers?

For the longest time, which isn’t that long since it constitutes maybe two years, I have been receiving a bulk of my news from the Yahoo! website. Today, I decided to take a step back and wonder why. Well, the titles are often promising, even if the articles don’t pull through. And they have that nifty scroll bar so you can read the headlines very quickly. But the more I read Yahoo!, the more angry I get at the poor quality of journalism shown by its writers.

There are some staff writers who write news, which is hardly ever news. The latest breaking news story is about Ashton Kutcher singing country. The rest of their content, they take from various blogs which contribute to Yahoo! But the writers are unprofessional, not at all meticulous enough to catch spelling mistakes, and down-right petty.

Take a gander at this article about technology, about what gadgets “turn women off.”  Okay, I understand the basic concept. If you wear

a blue tooth in your ear, women will steer clear of you because you seem too high-tech.

But then the writer also prattles on about how important brands are, how if you’re not carrying an Apple IPhone, no one is going to talk to you. Now I’m starting the see the trend. These writers are petty eighth graders paid to worship brands, restaurants, and politicians while dissing on others in the judgement of the head editor. And this biased, chest-puffed trash is what news has become.

Seriously, you’re going to write “news” about how women love certain technology, then just describe all the technology you personally own?

For the credit of Yahoo!, they do cover some controversial and serious topics. Anything that explodes online finds its way within twenty minutes onto Yahoo! I wonder, however, why it only takes twenty minutes. Let us take for example the KONY video released about a month ago. When people began sharing it on their walls, many people criticizes the supporters for jumping on a web bandwagon. But then again, people see something and need only click to share.

Many complained that no one checked their facts and that the video was riddled with falsity. But these are Facebook users and twitter users. There’s very little social responsibility for us beyond keeping up with who is in a relationship with who and who posted what pictures from what party last night. If this seems rather pathetic and ignorant, it is, but at least I can understand why someone just

checking their Facebook wall would not need to go on a scavenger search for truth.

And the day KONY2012 exploded, Yahoo! began posting about it as well. It is most certainly their responsibility to check facts. Days later, they upped the ante by criticizing KONY supporters while days ago supporting them. It’s not about facts or news or even interest. They work harder on their catchy headlines than any other part of their stories.

Besides not checking facts, the writers make a number of other follies. Most annoyingly, writing news about things that do not and will not ever matter. Read this breaking news story about the new Russian revolution going on– Oh, sorry, I meant, about Carrie Underwood’s leg: http://omg.yahoo.com/photos/2012-academy-of-country-music-awards-slideshow/

If I have to read another article about celebrity clothing or who divorced who after thirty days of lackluster marriage, I’m going to pierce my eyelids with fire pokers. For that reason, I’m giving up Yahoo! I am still going to use Yahoo! for my e-mail account, but beyond that, nope. I vow to from these day forward find an online newspaper with real news. With news that matters and news that isn’t petty and hockey-fashion-related on any day. Maybe I’m a grumpkin who can’t stand happy-feel-good stories, but seriously, another cat video?

That’s not a story. It’s a cat video.

I don't read the news. I just gossip with this girl who doesn't understand the importance of fiscal stability over chewing gum.

Letter to the More Mysterious Gender

{I wrote this column for the Aiken High Hornet Herald, published on Friday. Here, it is reproduced for your reading pleasure on Word Salad. enjoy}

Dear Females of Planet Earth,

Centuries ago, to prove his manhood, a man needed only to kill things, grow an intimidating beard, and pass on the family name. These days, men use facial cream to properly moisturize their pores. Some men prefer sushi over bloody, meaty steak. Men go to tanning beds, join book clubs, and wear cute slippers that feel like bunnies (because they in fact, are bunnies). In the intervening years, what happened?

Maybe I have been reading too many fantasy novels or watched Braveheart one too many times over break, but when did men get so wimpy? We have been softened. We have been emasculated. Men wax their chests and pluck their eyebrows. I wonder what a Viking might say if he could transport to our time to discover I like wearing cardigans. That is partly because I simply like cardigans and partly, it is your fault.

Modern man cannot live as his violent, honorable forefathers did. For some reason, in today’s society, it is considered rude if you lop off someone’s head with an axe, even if he has stolen from you or tarnished your honor. We are somewhat laughed at for what we have lost: our sense of dominance and our strength. At the same time, we are expected to act politely toward even those who offend us. Society expects us to eat with a knife and fork even when cutlery clearly isn’t necessary.

Honestly, I am getting pretty tired of females’ fickle expectations. One moment, you demand I toughen up and maybe go play some rugby and kill bears with my bare hands. The next moment, you want me suited up like a feminized James Bond so I can take some girl to ballroom dancing lessons. But then everyone gets very worked up if I show up to a fancy party with blood on my bowtie.

I am one hundred percent sure that no one who looks at me thinks “manly,” but if I acted in a way befitting males, I definitely do not want women gawking at my indecency. Do you think anyone shrilly screamed at George Washington for farting in public? Never. Because George Washington did whatever George Washington wanted to do. He was a man.

Double standards emasculate men and make us look unmanly. High school females seem to expect a level of chivalry from men that has apparently been lost. I, however, would contest that chivalry was given up by women who refuse to be treated chivalrously by any man. Women want us to open doors and pull out chairs for them, yet they name us “sexist” for doing so.

We have forgotten what it means to chivalrous. Today, I might not compete in horseback jousting for a girl or go to war for her honor, but I would certainly open a door for her. And how can that be disrespectful?

I am not a great fan of hunting animals or throwing logs across fields for recreation, but if that were all society expected of me, I would do it. Unfortunately, we are expected to do so much more than     that. All I would like are a few answers. Maybe decide among yourselves what to demand of us. Men need a role in society, and I realize that it is changing. I would simply appreciate  knowing  what that new role is. While men cannot simply cave in each others’ chests with battle axes, we should be allowed in some way to express the manhood we have strayed from.

(I know you all meet in private to discuss these matters. That is why you travel in packs to the restroom. I imagine instead of stalls there is a high court where all women teleport to decide the plight of men. Seriously, I’m on to you.)

As soon as you decide on what men should actually be, tell us. Do not hide behind enigmatic suggestions. Actually tell us what you want. You may find we pay attention more than you think.


A Very Perplexed Male

Revolution: America, You’re Doing It Wrong

I’m tired of my young friends complaining about “the government” or “the man.” I get. You think you’re oppressed because you have to work to make money. Teens are malleable in opinion and weak in heart when it comes to politics or revolutionary ideas. Some teens were raised from Conservative parents and so endlessly talk about how Obama needs to be “taken out,” that if only someone capable like George W. were again in control, America would be better off. And then the other half keeps bringing up how we’re all the 99% and should “take back” all that money we never made for ourselves from greedy Wall Street bankers.

First off, I don’t agree with everything Obama says, but if I hear another person offer to assassinate him, I will punch him in the face. To claim that Obama and his ideas are “Un-American” would be frivolous, a waste of both of our time. Our nation was established on the principle of compromise so yes, that means other Americans will hold different opinions than you. And you must work together to reconcile them, not “nuke ’em.”

Also, I completely understand how desperately disparate the income gap is. I get it: CEO’s and politicians make way too much money and can deduct way too much from their taxes. Occupy Wall Street may highlight these problems, but it doesn’t do anything about them. In fact, Occupy movements are self-destructive. So… this big wig guy makes more money than you and your entire extended family? How about we camp outside his investment firm and protest? He will definitely care then and then the country will care. We will change everything!

How exactly do you plan to camp out in the streets for weeks and months playing the ukulele? What about going to work? Oh, what’s that? You don’t have a job except for the one that’s “not good enough for you” at a retail store because you got a degree in art history instead of spending those four years at college doing something useful. And because you made that grievous mistake, you want some investment banker to “share the wealth.”

I know that not all protesters are like this. But for those of you who have truly screwed by the system and want to reform, remember who holds your signs and marches with you. It’s sniveling college students with a lot of student debt because they could not stand the thought of NOT going to Stanford for a degree in art history. As if it matters where that sort of degree comes from.

We’ve known forever we’ve been getting screwed over. Our system is more twisted than a Canadian contortionist. But all this talk about “Revolution” is a lot of hot air. That’s not what revolution looks like. Not if you just sit there. And I get that Martin Luther King achieved with peace (I’m not saying resort to violence), but he had a more united cause. Wall Street protesters suffer from this disease of disjointedness. Some want socialism, some want freedom, others free money. But it is not a united cause.

Instead, recent grad students who are forced to work at Kroger realized it would look cool to protest like the Egyptians or other revolting countries. Why can’t America be like them?

Part of the reason is because we’ve already gained democracy. We’ve not ACTUALLY oppressed except by greed. The government is not holding your head under the water. You are free to make money and take part in business. Where you come from partly can hinder you, but don’t tell me it’s impossible. Just because some jerk with lots of money succeeded because of his daddy’s contributions doesn’t mean you can’t succeed as well.

One last thing before I go, American revolutionaries. Right now, millions of internet users are patting each other on the back for snuffing out the fire called SOPA and calling arms for ACTA. Look, they contest, we paid attention to what the government was doing and changed it! Well, good job! You allowed Wikipedia and Google to thrust fear into your hearts so you could act in their better interests. Not that I agreed with SOPA, but you just bent your will to another kind of corporation. This so-called upheaval of anger did not occur until a few days before the act was supposed to be passed.

The act was introduced at the end of October and for a little while, I remember some people from the music industry discussing it. Some authors discussed it. But no one cared. No one cared till websites that would be affected took to the interwebs to warn its users. And then people got up in arms about the acts SOPA and PIPA infringing on our creative licenses… and how it showed unfair the justice system was becoming. Which is good, because that act did not bode well.

What I mean is, when you allow corporations to lead you into revolutionary battle, you’re not exactly going to get a government that is run by and for the people. Instead, you increase the control of corporations. America, you’re doing everything wrong. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t sit on your laurels. And although the internet is a great tool for spreading ideas, you won’t change anything drastically by just sitting there. Engage in conversations outside of the safe walls of the internet where you can be anonymous.

Rise in a different way. If you want to boost this economy, you should not be camping in Wall Street. You should be pursuing an actual job.

Actually pay attention to what your country is doing instead of waiting for the next internet protest to begin, following any “radicals” like lemmings. You are not a lemming. You are an American. And you can be a revolutionary.

Look at what happened during the French Revolution: it looked like a great idea, everyone was getting involve, and fun was had by all until they began lopping off heads in a guillotine. To mindlessly protest against the government is just as bad as mindlessly agreeing with it. you’re just falling prey to another sort of beast.

If you march up and down the street chanting “I am the 99%,” it only means someone else has been able to use you for their ultimate goal. Decide on your own ideas and then start the revolution. If you’re going to fight, fight for what YOU believe. And if you believe in the ideals of Occupy Wall Street (as scattered as they are), then march. If not, keep fighting your own fight.

If I work and you protest, we’re not both together as the 99%. You assume everyone in that vast majority of Americans thinks it is a good idea. But if you WORK to improve the economy and elect officials that actually share your views, you can make a real difference.

Short Story: “Bait For the Dammed”

As many of you know, I write for the Verge. Recently, the magazine published its annual fiction addition in which I had the good fortune of being published. I went to the release party and our New Years gathering the following day. Boy, do I have some stories to tell. But my fingers are weak and my mind numb from school. Perhaps in the strength of the morning, I will recount those tales to you so you can share in my strange but wonderful literary adventures.

Until then, read the short piece of fiction I have published.

“A journalist from the North learns there may be more behind a boring story about a dam when his truck breaks down in the South Carolina backwoods.”


Read the story via the online magazine here: http://vergelive.com/

Of course there are other great works in there as well, so read them all. If you don’t live in the CSRA, you can always read it online!

Reading the By-line

The librarian here in Aiken lowered her glasses and pursed her lips (in typical draconian/librarian style) as I jigged through the lobby, hopping on one foot, leaping into the air to complete graceful ballet turns, and waltzing all by myself. I waved a magazine like a banner as I pranced outside. Why? Because my first feature article was published on December 1st. If you don’t live in the CSRA area, you can check it out here. Page 19, not that I memorized that or anything.

I will know be able to boast as a professional poet (since I’ve had poetry published) and a working journalist. Now, just to get that novel published. Speaking of which, I sent loads of query letters lately. Spoken to many, many agencies. Statistically, I’m sure that if I have sent my novel to over 200 people, one will be bound to like it. Just one is all I need.

The feature story I published for Verge concerned NaNoWriMo. I felt a certain elated pride in seeing my name on the byline. It gave me a peculiar feeling; there is an other-worldliness with having your work out there. While I know people read this blog, I don’t feel that it’s quite a same. Though I’m extremely obsessive about checking view counts, I think of  a feature article in a different way.

You see, there’s not me there. In a blog, I inject myself into each post so that it froths over with my personality. Like when you put Mentos in a diet coke bottle.

But a magazine type story, that breeds a different readability. You are being read by many, many people, most of whom you’ve never met. Not many of them will give you feedback on what they thought. There is no comment section for a newspaper. Not really. So instead you’re consumed by the anonymous masses. Unless it’s a column, it’s not you, either. You can’t convince people to like you based on personality. The writer needs to be able to write. Except for that byline, a newspaper article can’t really represent you. The reader can’t see the writer behind the work, as much as they can when they read a poem or memoir.

The best way to relay this is to give the explaining away to a higher authority. By that, I mean, Chuck Palahniuk. This is a story he tells in his essay (13 tips): http://litreactor.com/essays/chuck-palahniuk/stocking-stuffers-13-writing-tips-from-chuck-palahniuk

Almost every morning, I eat breakfast in the same diner, and this morning a man was painting the windows with Christmas designs.  Snowmen.  Snowflakes.  Bells.  Santa Claus.  He stood outside on the sidewalk, painting in the freezing cold, his breath steaming, alternating brushes and rollers with different colors of paint.  Inside the diner, the customers and servers watched as he layered red and white and blue paint on the outside of the big windows.  Behind him the rain changed to snow, falling sideways in the wind.

The painter’s hair was all different colors of gray, and his face was slack and wrinkled as the empty ass of his jeans.  Between colors, he’d stop to drink something out of a paper cup.

Watching him from inside, eating eggs and toast, somebody said it was sad.  This customer said the man was probably a failed artist.  It was probably whiskey in the cup.  He probably had a studio full of failed paintings and now made his living decorating cheesy restaurant and grocery store windows.  Just sad, sad, sad.

This painter guy kept putting up the colors.  All the white “snow,” first.  Then some fields of red and green.  Then some black outlines that made the color shapes into Xmas stockings and trees.

A server walked around, pouring coffee for people, and said, “That’s so neat.  I wish I could do that…”

And whether we envied or pitied this guy in the cold, he kept painting.  Adding details and layers of color.  And I’m not sure when it happened, but at some moment he wasn’t there.  The pictures themselves were so rich, they filled the windows so well, the colors so bright, that the painter had left.  Whether he was a failure or a hero.  He’d disappeared, gone off to wherever, and all we were seeing was his work.

I hope you can glean some perspective from that story. Blogs give us unrealistic expectation of reader feedback. One day, I’ll just open a newspaper to read a review and there would be any option to “accept” or “deny.” It shall just be.

When you’re writing a story for a magazine or newspaper, you have only that by-line to represent you. That’s you in three words:

By Derek Berry

Interviews are Fun, So are FIRES

Nothing was on fire... except maybe fingers on keyboards.

I’ve been writing for the Hornet Herald for awhile, but I have been working on my first assignment for a magazine not associated with a school. For my first story, I’m writing about NANOWRIMO, which is apt and fairly fun to write about. A lot of writers have very strong feelings about it, so it’s good fun.

While having very engaging conversations with the writers, the fire alarms went off.

“Don’t worry,” I said, shrugging, “I’ve been here before when they malfunctioned.”

But then a librarian burst into the room, waving her arms. “Get out! Get out!”

We scrambled for our laptops, unplugged them from the walls. I shuffled up my interview papers, stuffing them into my bag, bunching wires and laptop in my arms as I trucked out of the meeting room. Down the creaking stairs because the elevators automatically locked down if the fire alarm sounded. I never knew the library even had an elevator.

Standing outside, the patrons began asking questions. The sun had just sunk beneath the horizon, setting blazes across the sky. And the library looked on fire. This old building that used to be the public school house looked as it spit dragon flames from its windows.

And I thought, “That’d be so cool.”

Fortunately, I wrote a story a few months ago about a library that blew up because of a bomb. I began to worry that if I published that and if the library in my hometown were actually burned down, I might attract some blame. But it still struck me as such a cool idea.

So, last night was fairly busy. Interviews, work, and a fire that never actually was. Turns out, some kid pulled the fire alarm switch. Which makes me sad that I never pulled one when I was young, because I always wanted to. And this kid who did got into absolutely no trouble. Kids can get away with all sorts of atrocities. I never abused that opportunity.

The experience made me realize, most of all that… if a fire ever actually broke out in a library, we’d be too worried about our laptops to not crisp black.